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BLACKJACK ANSWER MAN

By John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

 

Q. I keep reading about how bad 6-5 payoffs on blackjacks are for players, but when I asked a dealer about it, he said, "How often do you get blackjack, anyway?" Can you put into dollars and cents just how bad it is?

A. Among the common rules variations in blackjack, a 6-5 payoff on two-card 21s is by far the worst. Paying only 6-5 instead of 3-2 on blackjacks costs 1.39 percent Ė an amount larger than the entire house edge against a basic strategy player at most blackjack tables. Take a run-of-the-mill six-deck game where the dealer stands on all 17s, the player is allowed to double down after splitting pairs, and may resplit pairs up to three times for a total of four hands. The house edge is only 0.41 percent.

That one rule, paying 6-5 on blackjacks, is more than triple the house edge than the entire set of rules on a common six-deck game. So yes, it really is THAT bad.

As for the request to put that in dollars and cents instead of percentages, letís use a sample of 441 hands Ė about two-hours of head-to-head play, or around eight hours of play at a full table. At about one blackjack per 21 hands, you'd average about 21 two-card 21s. On one of those, the dealer would also have blackjack and youíd push - we all know not to take even money unless the count is right.

That leaves 20 blackjacks on which youíre paid. Letís say youíre betting $10 a hand. If you're only getting $12 payoffs instead of $15, that means the rule cost you $60. That's six bets worth in your 441 hands.

The sharp-eyed number crunchers among you might note the $60 shortfall in 441 hands is only a 1.36 percent increase in house edge instead of 1.39. Thatís just the effect of rounding the number of blackjacks per hour.

 

Q. My dad insists on seeking out automatic shufflers. If weíre in a casino with both hand-shuffled games and shuffling machines, he plays with the machines. Dad insists the shufflers are better for the players. Is he right?

A. If you assume honest dealers competent enough to give you a random game Ė and that takes in most of them - then the answer here is that it depends. Are you a card counter or a basic strategy or average player? Is the shuffling machine a continuous type, where the cards are placed back in the machine after they are played and randomly shuffled back into the pack?

Continuous shufflers are tough on everyone. Card counters canít apply their skills if the cards are just shuffled back into play. For non-counters, the speed of play becomes a factor. If thereís never a pause for a shuffle, or even to cut the cards in a machine-shuffled deck, it means more hands per hour, and more chances for the house edge to work against you. For counters and non-counters alike, itís in their best interests to walk on by continuous shufflers and look for a different game.

With other automatic shufflers, thereís a separation of player interests. Commonly, such shufflers hold two packs, often of six or eight decks each. While one pack is in play, the other is being shuffled. When itís time to reshuffle one pack, itís put back in the machine, the other is taken out, cards are cut and play resumes.

There are fewer hands per hour with these traditional automatic shufflers than with a continuous shuffler, but more than on a game where play stops while the dealer hand-shuffles the cards. Thatís where the separation of interest comes in. More hands per hour favor whoever has the edge on the game. Card counters want a faster game, and might choose a game with a non-continuous automatic shuffler. Basic strategy players or average players do not have an edge on the game, and if all else is equal including table rules and number of players theyíre usually better off with a hand-shuffled game.

 

Q. I was playing in Antigua, and the dealer did not take a hole card. Does that make a difference?

A. The method of dealing has no overall impact on the dealer's final hand. He's getting different cards, so sometimes it'll be better than it would have been had he taken a hole card at the start, and sometimes it'll be worse. But his average hand will be the same.

Still, it's a negative rule for players if the house takes both bets in double down and pair splitting situations if the dealer completes a blackjack.

Let's say you have a two-card 11, and the dealer has 10-value card face up. In most games, the dealer checks to see if he has an Ace face down. If he does, the dealerís blackjack stops the hand. If not, basic strategy calls for you to double down on your 11, leaving you with two bets on the table.

If the dealer has no hole card, he can't check for blackjack, so there's nothing to stop you from making that second bet. After players have completed their hands, if the dealer then draws an Ace to complete a blackjack, you lose two bets instead of one.

It's the same deal when splitting pairs. If you have a pair of 8s and the dealer has a 10 face up, basic strategy calls for making a second bet to split the 8s. In most games, a dealer blackjack would stop you before you could make the second bet. In a no-hole-card game, a dealer blackjack means you lose two bets.

That requires a little self-defense. In a multiple-deck, no-hole-card game where the house takes both double down and split bets on a dealer blackjack, don't double down with an 11 against a dealer's 10-value. Don't split 8s if the dealer has a 10-value or an Ace up, and don't split Aces if the dealer has an Ace up. In all those cases, just hit the hands instead of risking a second bet.

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